Barbara Burdick was wrapping Christmas presents Tuesday night when she realized her house was on fire.
“It sounded just like someone scratching at the walls,” she said. “That was my siding crinkling in the flames.”
She and her son Tracy Butler ran outside to see fire shooting from a neighboring house, igniting the side of their own 31 Moyston St. home.
“Right then I knew, it’s taking the house,” Butler said. “I’m pretty sure the presents are toast.”
Shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday night fire crews were called to the scene of a major house fire at 33 Moyston. By the time they arrived that structure along with a house on each side were nearly engulfed. The Schenectady Fire Department threw all their resources at that blaze. They stopped the spread, but couldn’t save the three homes.
Burdick and Butler stood shivering on Moyston Street Wednesday morning, watching tired firefighters and National Grid workers at the scene. State Street was closed into the afternoon, and a hose running along Moyston supplied a stream of water that was showered onto the burned rubble left by three destroyed homes. The chimney of 35 Moyston stood like an obelisk, marking the home’s former height.
Butler was in a pair of boots a few sizes too big. He left the house in slippers Christmas Eve. The boots are his brother’s. He and his mother are staying with family in Rotterdam, but don’t have long-term plans.
Burtick lived in the house for 30 of her 77 years, and Butler lived there nearly as long. They lost all their possessions, possibly even their cat Baby.
“Mom always wanted a house in the Adirondacks,” Butler said.
“A heck of way to get there,” she said.
Schenectady Fire Chief Michael Della Rocca worked from a command center set up in an RV near the fire Wednesday. He described a desperate scene from the night before.
Flames blew half way out into the street with radiant heat melting the siding of surrounding homes. At one point a resident of 33 Moyston either jumped or fell from a second-story window.
Della Rocca said firefighters shot streams of water into the blaze and onto nearby homes, even as their jackets slowly hardening with layers of ice from the spray.
“It took me 10 minutes to get my turnout jacket off,” he said. “It was just solid ice.”
Two men from the center house were taken to Ellis Hospital. The man who dropped from the second story window required further help and was transferred to a special burn center Della Rocca couldn’t name. Calls to Ellis officials Wednesday were not returned and Della Rocca had no further information on the condition of the fire victims.
He said a few displaced people were helped by the Red Cross, but no one is sure yet how many people were living in each home.
“We’re canvassing the neighborhood right now,” he said. “We’re still gathering information.”
At this point, he said, the fire is under investigation. It began in the center home, but beyond that Della Rocca couldn’t comment.